You know how occasionally things just work out incredibly fortuitously? Whisky Live London was one of those occasions for me.
I had to be in London for 4 days for work. Having not been for a few years, I decided I'd take the Friday as leave rather than head home a day early - figuring it shouldn't be too hard to find something to do in London for a day. I got in early the weekend before too, had a great time bar-hopping with this bloke, and at one point dropped by the SMWS bar in Greville St, London, where I got talking to Martyn, The Whisky Cyclist. Upon hearing I was only in town for the week, Martyn asked was I going to Whisky Live on Friday?
"Umm...well I bloody well am now!" was about all I could manage.
I genuinely had no idea it was on (which was surprising, considering how many UK bloggers I follow on Twitter), but it looked like I'd sorted out my Friday! Even better - just before plonking down £50 on a ticket, I noticed Whisky Live were offering media passes for an early media/blogger session. So with one of those sorted, all I had to do was wait for Friday to roll around.
I was excited to visit Whisky Live London because I'd heard good things (and generally, from what I could tell, major whisky shows held in the UK have been pretty high quality). I was also keen to see how it compared with Whisky Live Sydney, which I don't consider a bad show at all, but in my opinion is more of a beginner show, as opposed to say The Whisky Show or Oak Barrel's Whisky Fair, who cater more towards the enthusiast.
Fast forward to Friday, and I turn up to the impressive grounds of The Honourable Artillery Company for my first taste of a UK whisky show...
Arriving into the relatively empty hall, I quickly spotted a few familiar faces from the whisky blogging world - the likes of Dave and Kat from Whisky Discovery, Greg from GreatDrams and later the famous Joel Harrison (formerly Cask Strength, now Worlds Best Spirits). One thing that struck me first was that whilst a number of the big whisky companies were present, they weren't necessarily presenting the whiskies you might think. William Grant & Sons for example, had no Balvenie, Glenfiddich or Kininvie in sight. They did however have an impressive lineup of seven different Girvans. Diageo too were present, but with Mortlach (and yes, the new NAS Talisker Skye).
Then there was Wemyss Malts, Maverick Drinks (who are as entertaining in person as they are online), and Whisky Magazine presenting the full set of World Whiskies Awards winners (the competition having been held in London the night before).
The Rare Old Bar allowed attendees to sample some pretty rare drams (such as a Glenfarclas 1961 Family Cask, Glengoyne 35yo or even the Appleton Estate 50yo rum) for a fee, but there were plenty of impressive drams on offer at the exhibitor booths too, including a few gems I managed to sample on the night:
- Girvan 25 and 30
- Teeling 21
- Wemyss "Velvet Fig" (winner of the previous night's "Best Scotch Blended Malt")
- Balcones Brimstone
- Kavalan Vinho Barrique (winner of the previous night's "World's Best Single Malt Whisky")
- The Lost Distilleries Blend
- Master of Malt 40yo Liquer
- ...amongst many others (notes up soon)
As mentioned, the World Whiskies Awards were held the night before (also in London), and I imagine there would have been a few sore heads during the show. Nevertheless, a few legends made an appearance - including these two fresh from their recent wins:
Unlike previous shows where we'd run into Bill Lark, Bill was there as a punter (from what we could tell), enjoying the show and as always, happy to chat to fellow whisky lovers. A legend (or should we say the legend?) of the modern-day Australian whisky scene.
Maverick Drinks (known and loved for their fantastic range of Drinks by the Dram) had an interesting stand, with a number of expressions from That Boutique-y Whisky Company and Balcones (not a bad drop amongst them) and a live Tweet board, where you could tweet them, see your tweet in real-time, and score a dram for your troubles (a Batch 4 Arran from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, thank you very much).
After about 2 hours the public started to shuffle in and the hall started to fill up, so I headed off to one of the masterclasses - an introduction to Dewar's (Bacardi's) "The Last Great Malts", with an enticing lineups of whiskies that, until recently, were not often seen for sale:
- Aberfeldy 21
- Craigellachie 13
- Craigellachie 23
- Aultmore 25
- Royal Brackla Single Cask 21yo (my pick of the line-up)
It might have been an "introductory" masterclass, but these certainly weren't "introductory" whiskies, with at least two of them retailing for £300+. A great experience though, with a very entertaining host in Stephen Marshall (ex-SWMS and current brand ambassador the Last Great Malts).
After a few more drams shared with a few more bloggers, it was time to call it a night. Was it a good show? Without a doubt! With a line-up of some very interesting / not often seen whiskies, some great characters, an enjoyable masterclass schedule and the ability to taste the complete lineup of the World Whiskies Awards winners just a day after the awards, it was about the best possible way to spend a Friday evening.
TimeforWhisky attended Whisky Live London as a media guest of Whisky Live (as we did in Sydney in 2013).